Meet Me in San Sal: Grahams Harbor

San Salvador, Bahamas Image from


Upon arriving via Bahamas Air to the airport in San Salvador, the group of 31 students and 8 faculty members headed off to Gerace Research Centre where we stowed our belongings and donned our fins. The first location on the 5 by 12 mile of San Salvador we visited was Grahams Harbor, a 0.5 mile walk west from the research center. Right away, you notice that the island is very, very flat compared to Charlottesville. This offers optimal views of the ocean as you walk along Queen’s Highway, the major highway that circumnavigates the island. Now, walking a half mile may not seem like a big deal, but loaded up with large scuba fins, snorkeling gear, sunblock, etc. proves to be a daunting task when the sun beats down on you. However, we were armed with plenty of water and ready to get in the water!


Gerace Research Center. Photo from


At Grahams Harbor, you notice that there’s a wonderful sandy area like a beach postcard and right off to the west is pure limestone. We’re talking sharp karst topography but we were forewarned and wore appropriate shoe attire. I personally broke out a pair of Tevas I haven’t worn since 2006, but hey, they fit!  The wade into the water is quite gradual and even in less than a foot of water, you can expect to see many things. One of our faculty members, Bev, is notorious for her quote “The more you look, the more you see.”


View from above Grahams Harbor beach. The white building off in the distance is the research center. Image from
Purple-tipped anemone. Image from
A male blue-headed wrasse. Image from



From the karst topography, if you make your way north and hug the coast line, you’ll come across a small reef in water about 5-6 feet deep depending on the tide. Here, you can find many juvenile fish like blue headed wrasse and other organisms like pink-tipped sea anemones. The best part about the anemones is that you can take a hermit crab or other shelled organism like a tunicate and put it in the tentacles and watch the anemone eat it. If you choose to continue hugging the coastline, you’ll encounter a channel of water between the mainland and North Point (see map). Since the water flows east to west, the ever-persisting current is typically weakest at low tide. However, when we tried searching for sun anenomes here one day, the current was way too strong for many of us. Some people even got sea sick from battling it!

Channel between North Point and the mainland of San Sal. Image from

Finding sun anemones is an extremely rewarding experience because they’re an anemone you can touch… and it’s fun. It’s like touching jelly that is a little extra sticky. Very bouncy, for lack of a better scientific term. These guys are also fun to feed small shelled invertebrates.

A sun anemone. Have fun poking it! Image from
Looking out into the ocean from the dock at Grahams Harbor. Image from

The last great place to snorkel at Grahams Harbor is by the sandy beach by the dock. Some of the dock has fallen into disrepair but it’s a great place to find juvenile and terminal parrotfish (stoplight and princess parrotfish typically). On the rare occasion, you may even find a sea turtle! Many other interesting fish lurk underneath the fallen concrete platforms so dive down and take a look as well. Aside from your common squirrelfish, other nocturnal fish may be found as well like big eyes. Like Bev says, “The more you look, the more you see!” So even if you don’t immediately see fish, dive down for a closer look. You may not be looking at fish but another animal entirely…!


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